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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

The Big Questions Teachers Are Asking Themselves Right Now

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 07, 2023 12 min read
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Summertime is when we teachers can de-clutter our minds and decompress from the school year.

It can also be a time for us to reflect on the bigger questions facing our profession.

Today’s post is the latest in a series exploring what some of those questions might be ...

Schools and ‘the Future Economy’

Meg Riordan, Ph.D., is the chief learning officer at the Possible Zone, a youth entrepreneurship and work-based learning program with a mission to advance economic equity. She has been in the field of education for almost 30 years as a middle, high school, and college teacher, researcher, leadership coach and school designer, and director for a network of schools:

“Knowledge emerges only through … the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” - Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator who viewed education as a practice of freedom, suggests that questions are “the roots of change.” They involve creativity, risk, and connection to action; they are fundamental to being in the world and with others. In the spirit of Freire, I unpack one question I’ve been pondering and I offer, through curiosity and searching, pathways to possible solutions.

How do we prepare students in American schools for the future economy?

Our world today and the world of the future is marked by digitalization and rapid change: Technology is prolific and advancing; jobs in artificial intelligence and STEM are growing, and in our post-COVID landscape, entrepreneurial and agile learners are in demand. In addition to collaboration and communication, employers seek skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and the ability to manage emotions and persist.

Yet, the educational system young people are immersed in every day is largely disconnected from the world of work. High school diploma requirements vary from state to state, as does the quality of teaching and learning. The latest report from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that high school students at private schools are more likely than public school students to complete advanced mathematics and science courses, positioning them to seize future career opportunities.

While there’s general agreement that core subjects like science are important, there’s less consensus on how to integrate social-emotional learning like growth mindset or relationship skills into students’ experiences. Plus, many young people, particularly students of color and those from financially underresourced communities, lack networks or social capital to access and navigate the future workforce. They get left out and are left with fewer opportunities.

What happens as these truths converge? One vision outlines skills and social capital required to access postsecondary and workforce pathways. The other illuminates disparities hard-wired into educational systems that thwart young people’s access to thrive in the future workforce and achieve economic mobility. What does it take to prepare all young people, including those with historically the least opportunity, to enter the future economy with the skills, confidence, and readiness to shape their own futures? I explore ideas to rethink education that moves us closer to answering this question:

  • Leverage industry partnerships: High school models like P-Tech, Big Picture Learning, and CAPS Network immerse students in authentic experiences including internships, mentoring by workforce professionals, and the creation of products for industry partners. In this way, education isn’t separate from the new economy—it is informed by and engaged with it. P-Tech students, for instance, earn both a high school diploma and a two-year postsecondary degree in a STEM field, developing academic and professional skills for postsecondary education or to access entry-level careers in IT, health care, advanced manufacturing.

    Youth-development organizations like The Possible Zone partner with industry leaders like Converse to co-create Deep Dives, immersive experiences in which students learn shoe and apparel design alongside Converse designers and production managers, gaining real-world skills via hands-on STEAM learning. Such partnerships benefit industry partners, who receive fresh perspective and user insights, as well as contributions to product development and a pipeline of talent; young people concurrently build future-ready skills such as communication, design and analytical thinking, and agility needed to navigate workforce environments.

  • Share and scale effective practices: Effective teacher learning involves a “deprivatization” and “decentralization” of practice; when educators collaborate in planning, observation, reflection, and dialogue, they unearth understandings that impact students’ learning and shape their curriculum, instruction, and assessments to support engagement, deeper learning, and authentic application.

    At schools, sharing can happen within departments and across grade levels, activating communities of practice; across schools, networks can intentionally connect educators across geographies and provide opportunities to share strong practice that emerges in a particular context—and how that scales to other contexts. Today’s Web3 technology offers potential solutions to enhance teacher learning, including k20Educators, a metaverse hub to connect, share resources, and innovate. As we prepare students for the future of work, it is essential to expand knowledge of how technology can support professional growth and impact students’ learning experiences.

As Friere’s opening reminds us, knowledge and action emerge from inquiry. Though structures, pace, and channels have evolved, the core holds: We need to meet students and teachers where technology and communication intersect and design experiences that build skills to navigate an increasingly complex world.


‘Culturally Responsive Pedagogy’

Keenan W. Lee, M.Ed., is an urban English-language-development (ELD) teacher in central Pennsylvania. Lee specializes in curriculum and instruction in early-childhood education and English-language development of multilingual learners:

One question that I ponder all the time is if we want our schools to be a culturally responsive environment and want teachers to use culturally responsive pedagogy in their classrooms, why don’t we make the change in the college and university teacher-preparation programs?

This question weighs heavily on me because in today’s society it is important that we teachers have a classroom that celebrates and honors all cultural identities that make up the classroom environment. However, oftentimes, many teachers—new and veteran—do not understand what culturally responsive teaching is and the changes that are necessary to be made to be culturally responsive.

It seems as if there is a disconnect between what happens in the classroom versus what is being taught in teacher-prep programs. There has to be a way to bridge the gap between the two entities and have some sort of cohesion in what teachers are being taught and what the expectations are in the school districts across the country.

An idea that I would propose to policymakers would be to create a task force or committee that consists of students, parents, teachers, and college faculty. This committee would be the ones to actually examine college and university practices and help develop curricula for teacher-preparation programs that reflect real-world applications of culturally responsive pedagogy in the classroom and how it can be implemented.

One day my hope is that all stakeholders in education will see the importance of culturally responsive pedagogy and how it allows for teachers to put the students’ cultural and linguistic heritage to the forefront of learning and how this will create a more sound learning community for all involved in the learning process.


Time in Schools

Amber Chandler is the author of The Flexible SEL Classroom and a contributor to many education blogs. She teaches 8th grade ELA in Hamburg, N.Y. Amber is the president of her union of 400 teachers. Follow her @MsAmberChandler and check out her website:

I’m obsessed with creating optimal work environments, efficient ways of getting the results I want, and producing as many states of “flow” as possible for both my students and myself. The one question I ponder—at least monthly—is this: How should schools structure time to be the most beneficial for students and teachers, and is that even possible?

I began my career teaching high school with an hour and a half block scheduling. I taught three blocks and I had a block free for planning each day, and the entire school had a half hour lunch at the same time. I saw my students every other day. I loved the type of block scheduling, but there were obvious drawbacks, too. If you missed one class, it was definitely hard to catch up. Some students struggled to stay focused. For me, though, it allowed the best mix of direct instruction and independent practice, and I loved the way I had time to do project-based learning in meaningful ways.

Fast forward, and in my fifth year of teaching, I moved to a new state with 42-minute classes every day. I was constantly running out of time, and it took years to adjust to this pace and the intensity of seeing my students every single day. I stopped assigning homework altogether, as it didn’t seem fair to me that students didn’t have down time before they were back in class again. This time, I was at a middle school, and the entire experience is so vastly different that I didn’t think much about time, as I had to rethink everything.

However, over the last few years of pandemic teaching, we’ve been forced to try on several learning configurations. First, we had all virtual. Then, we had hybrid, with every other day independent and the opposite day in person. The benefit to this was classes of 12 to 14 students. We returned this year with 38-minute classes to accommodate a longer homeroom, which was required because of busing issues. I was so happy to be in person with my students that I didn’t care we’d lost a few minutes.

Yet, I’ve been saying a lot that “things shouldn’t go back to normal since normal wasn’t working either,” but I’m still pondering what an effective schedule would be to maximize learning. As I said, I think about this at least once a month and, more recently, because my district sent out a survey about flipping elementary and high school start times to better follow the research about sleep. The staff was nearly 50/50, but the community was strongly against a switch. This all brings me back to my original “pondering”—how should schools structure learning that is optimal for students and teachers, and is that even possible? The additional factor that will keep me pondering this question is how should schools be structured that will be best for families, too? Clearly, this isn’t a topic that will be resolved, and I can bet come fall I’ll be thinking about this all over again.

As with all of my educational philosophies, I believe the optimal situation would need to be flexible, and that is the root of the problem. We’d need solutions that addressed transportation, child care, and the science of learning, in addition to the social and emotional implications. In order to best develop a system that is best, the obstacles would need to be removed that cause us to make educational decisions based on available resources and convenience. School is a structure that is rigid, and if we are to optimize learning for students, teachers, and families, that would have to change dramatically.


Thanks to Meg, Keenan, and Amber for contributing their thoughts.

This post is the third in multipart series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.

The question of the week is:

What questions related to education do you periodically “ponder” and don’t feel like you—or others you are familiar with—have a good answer for? Do you have ideas for what would be required to get those answers?

In Part One, Matt Renwick, July Hill-Wilkinson, and Ann Stiltner contributed their reflections.

Matt, July, and Ann were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In Part Two, Vernita Mayfield , Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, and Michael Pershan shared their ideas.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 11 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributors to this column.

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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